San Clemente street artist Bandit draws inspiration from human condition
By Eric Heinz
Working in the shadows of the night, an artist toes the line between good taste and defacing property.
He is known as Bandit, but he doesn’t steal; Bandit has been one of San Clemente’s most reputable street artists for a couple years.
Bandit spoke to San Clemente Times on the condition of anonymity, identified under his artist pseudonym.
“I started doing street art about five years ago around San Clemente,” Bandit said. “I did mindless graffiti when I was in high school. We usually just painted skate spots.”
Bandit, who is known for his stencil and spray paint work, said many street artists are activists in their own way. They try to put culture into the work, but part of the message is bringing social and political issues to light. He said he also tries to make his art relatable to human emotions.
“Graffiti and street art possess something gallery or studio work do not,” Bandit said. “They are both very raw and expressive art forms. They are uncensored, they are fleeting and they are at risk of being buffed or painted over from the moment you put something on the street. They are both impermanent art forms, which gives them that romance and mystery.”
Bandit said he has worked in every state in the Southwestern United States as well as Montreal, Canada.
A self-taught artist, Bandit said he started with oil paintings and acrylics before diving into the underground movement of public stencils.
Depending on the size of the piece, it could take anywhere from an hour to days to complete a stencil. He said he’s currently working on a project that incorporates multiple stencils, which will take a week to construct.
“People are pretty receptive to the art, for the most part,” Bandit said. “Sometimes you get pushback, and that’s OK. The street art genre has evolved a bit in San Clemente over the years. Public murals seemed to become the new medium of graffiti.”
Like most artists in his line of work, Bandit has experienced the consequences of the type of work he does.
“It is vandalism. You’re putting your work on property you don’t have permission to do so,” Bandit said. “It’s a gray area because it’s not just graffiti; it’s not just (tagging) a wall. If you’re a good street artist, you understand what you’re doing and there’s a purpose behind it. I think a lot of people can relate to the work we do in the streets. It adds character and beauty and color to a wall.”
Bandit said a couple years ago his home was raided by law enforcement after they linked him to vandalism in San Clemente, Dana Point, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.
He said he was sentenced to three years of probation and some jail time as well as $10,000 in fines.
“Down here (law enforcement) is pretty serious,” he said. “A lot of my friends in Los Angeles (who have been caught) by the cops, they let them go usually if it’s not graffiti. When it’s graffiti they look at that as gang affiliation.”
Gang-affiliated renditions are a far more punitive conviction.
Despite the setbacks, Bandit said he would like to see the method of stencil art continue to flourish. He said his incarceration hasn’t stopped him from doing what he loves, but most of his work will probably take place outside Orange County in the near future.
“I hope to see street art become more of an addition to the cities in Orange County,” Bandit said. “Each city has its own character, so it would be nice to see public art represent each city in its own unique way. Public art and street art really attracts people, which in return generates business and revenue to small businesses in small towns, I believe. Public art, if done right, can only benefit a city.”